Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Cultural Prozac

What do top 10 lists, TiVo's and iPod's have in common? J. Peder Zane explains:

Awards and top 10 lists serve the same function, helping us focus on what deserves our attention from an ever-expanding menu of choices.

The need for such guidance has never been greater. Technology has powered a fundamental shift during the last decade, dramatically decentralizing culture and empowering the consumer. Thanks to the iPod and online services such as the iTunes music store, the album has given way to the personal playlist, enabling us to buy only the music we want, and much more of it. TiVo means we no longer have to pick a particular television show at a given hour, but can watch what we want, when we want. The Internet has increased exponentially our sources of information so that we are no longer limited by the number of magazine and newspaper subscriptions we can afford.

When everything is available, anything is possible. Technology is allowing us to replace mass culture with personal preferences. Each of us is an impresario and ringmaster, designing lavish entertainments for an audience of one. Man, do I have good taste!

With choice comes responsibility. Which songs? Which programs? Which publications? It can make your head ache. In "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less" (2004) Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, argues that our cornucopia culture is damaging our mental health.

Perhaps. But that ship has sailed -- the future will only bring more choice. In this context, prizes and top 10 lists are cheap forms of mass therapy, reducing the stress of selection. Consider them cultural Prozac.

5 Comments:

Blogger A.J. Kaufman said...

Good societal musings.

8:12 PM  
Blogger Charlie Anderson said...

Well I found your blog...

8:53 AM  
Blogger Steven Rosenberg said...

Drinking a firehose worth of entertainment out of a thimble ... it's always been that way, only worse today.

That makes the critic's job more important than ever.

6:07 PM  
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